[Sunny Shao – Co-funder of HER-CHA Tea]
Growing up in China, I’ve always been passionate about tea. I still remember the days when I can practice my gong fu brewing for an entire afternoon. Throughout my journey, visiting some of the most restricted areas where small-batch tea artisans make the most authentic premium tea, I have gained valuable knowledge in various aspects of tea. Among my tea-loving friends, I often came across questions about Chinese tea names and categorizations. Many of them have been confused about different tea names, especially the ones without a proper translation.
Today I want to talk about two types of oolong tea made in northern Fujian: Da Hong Pao (Red Drape) and Shui Xian (Water Lily). Both are dark oolongs, but they differ in appearance, color, and flavor.
Shui Xian (Water Lily)
Appearance: Sandy pieces on the back of the leaf
Tea color: Dark golden orange with a dark red ring
Flavor: Rich and long-lasting orchid-type floral taste
Da Hong Pao (Red Drape)
Appearance: Tidily rolled and slightly twisted
Tea color: Bright orange
Flavor: mineral and vibrant flavor with a sweet aftertaste followed by long-lasting aroma at the bottom of the cup
How these two dark oolongs differ in making techniques?
One of the most critical processes in oolong tea making is pan-fixing. This step uses high temperature to stop the active enzyme that is fermenting the leaves. Every single detail and element in pan-fixing will affect the final quality of the dark oolong. During the pan-fixing process, tea artisans will choose different burning materials depending on the type of dark oolong tea.
Shui Xian (Water Lily) & Qiu Sao
For “Water Lily,” tea artisans use a particular type of tree branch called Qiu Sao (autumn broom). These branches can create a large amount of flame and last a long time. This specific character makes it perfect for “Water Lily” oolong because it needs to be pan-fixed for a more extended period than other oolongs.
Da Hong Pao (Red Drape) & Mang Qi Gu
Mang Qi Gu is a type of Perennial herbs. In Chinese medicine, it is used to treat ant bites and small wounds. Tea artisans will pick median-sized Mang Qi Gu and feed them into the stove little by little. This herb is very easy to lit and put-off, and therefore the perfect burning material for “Red Drape” pan-fixing as it requires delicate control of temperature.